Shades of Grey: Sex, Gender and Attraction

Traditionally people have fallen into the trap of simply seeing gender and sexuality as black and white. You are either a male or a woman who is heterosexual or homosexual. This is a ‘binary’ view of sex and gender. The reality, however, like most human characteristics, is that when we truly understand gender and sexuality, we realise that there are many variations. These characteristics can be highly variable along a continuum, in shades of grey. A ‘non-binary’ view is a more accurate reflection of the nature of these human characteristics.


Sex is assigned at birth. When you are born, you could be assigned as a male, female or intersex. Intersex might be assigned when your chromosomes, hormones or sex characteristics are ambiguous. Yes, that is right, nature is complex and ‘gender diverse’, or non-binary.


Gender identity is how you feel? It is how a person perceives their own gender. It is their inner concept of identifying as a male, female, or a blend of both or neither.

Gender expression is how you present to others. This could depend on how you act, dress, speak, talk, or your body shape, and so on. Gender expression is our external appearance.

People who identify as transgender might align their internal perception of their gender identity with their outward appearance. This can mean dressing, grooming, acting, speaking, and so on, in a manner consistent with their gender identity, not with the sex they were assigned at birth. Some of these individuals might choose to undertake gender reassignment through appropriate medical procedures, or a gender transition. Some might not. Being transgender does not determine your sexual preferences.

How someone feels or expresses themselves in relation to their gender identity, does not determine their sex or sexual preference(s).


Physical attraction relates to the attributes of the person(s) to whom you are physically or sexually attracted.

Emotional attraction relates to the characteristics of the person(s) to whom you are emotionally or romantically attracted.

Attraction is on a spectrum, as people can be attracted to the opposite gender (heterosexuals), different genders (pansexual or bisexual) or the same gender (homosexual).

Someone who is asexual feels no physical attraction to others. Someone who is aromantic feels no emotional attraction to others.

Some people do not identify with any of these terms. They see gender and sexuality as fluid. These individuals might prefer to identify with other terms like ‘queer’.

What is most important, is valuing diversity and respecting individual differences. Through embracing individual differences and allowing people to be who they truly are, we create a much more accepting and safer society for everyone and can appreciate the rich tapestry of our culture.

Sometimes irrational beliefs, or even fears, underlie non-acceptance. A parent might feel like they have failed if their child identifies as a different gender or is gay, for example. The reality is, to succeed as a parent, it is essential to focus on unconditional love and acceptance of your child. You cannot force people to be something they are not. Parental success is allowing your children to develop into who they are, not who you want them to be!

Another fear might be, that to accept a family member as having different sexual preferences or gender identity might bring their own identity and preferences into question. The resolution is simple. Their gender identity or sexual preferences will not affect yours. Do not feel threatened by difference, simply embrace it. Let people self-actualise and become who they really are. Don’t pigeon-hole them and attempt to force them into acting, or being, like someone that they are not.

When people feel they must suppress their natural being, they cannot truly be themselves. Having to repress their gender identity or sexuality to avoid judgement, bias, or even possible rejection, from others can lead to feelings of sadness, depression, loneliness and even shame. It is sad to see some individuals and families hold onto a very narrow and uninformed view of the world, at the expense of their loved one’s mental health and quality of life.

As we evolve, we develop more insight and understanding into the richness of nature and the beauty in diversity. It is important to embrace difference and variation.

If you, or someone you know, is experiencing difficulty with their gender identity, or acceptance, support is available. Book an appointment by calling (02) 6061 1144.

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